Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Highlands Jiangsu Connection

Last November, I was invited to represent Highlands School at the Principals’ Forum in Jiangsu Province, China where I met administrators and officials from China and from other English speaking countries. One of the goals of this forum was to explore ways to make connections to enhance student learning in both Jiangsu Province and in the English speaking countries.

Because of the bonds formed during the forum, Highlands School is sending a delegation of parents and students (grades 5 – 8) to travel to Jiangsu Province October 24 – November 1, 2008 to connect with students, parents, and teachers at Nanjing Cheng Xianjie Primary School, to visit cultural and historic sites, and to visit a business with Highlands and Birmingham ties to better understand the relevance and importance of studying the Mandarin language and Chinese culture, history, and geography.

Overview of the Goals of the Highlands Jiangsu Connection

Language and Culture
Highlands School students have been learning Mandarin during the 2007 – 2008 school year with two Chinese teachers through the National Association of Independent School’s China Connection program. The Highlands Jiangsu Experience will provide opportunities for students to use the Mandarin language and experience the Chinese culture they have been studying at Highlands School.

Meaningful and Productive Cross Cultural Interactions
The Highlands Jiangsu Experience promises to be much more than a typical tour as the students will interact with students at Nanjing Cheng Xianjie Primary School using the international “languages” of sports, art, and music. The students will be grouped into teams comprised of both Chinese and Highlands students and will practice with a Chinese “coach” and an American “coach.” They will then play basketball games, participate in art classes together, and share talents in a talent show.

Cross Cultural Exchanges on a Personal Level
Each Highlands family will be paired with a family from Nanjing Cheng Xiangjie Primary School for a home cooked meal in a Chinese home. Both Chinese parents and Highlands parents will gather at the school for a roundtable discussion about the joys and challenges of raising children in the 21st Century.

Relevance of China/Chinese to Highlands and Alabama
Highlands students and parents will gain a better understanding of how people from Alabama are connected to China by touring a business in Shanghai with Birmingham and Highlands connections. We are also seeking ways to help Alabama during the visit, as Governor Riley recently visited Nanjing in Jiangsu Province.

8 Days Itinerary in China

Day 1 Sat. Oct.25
Arrival Shanghai Pudong Airport, warmly welcome to China!
Pick up at airport & transfer to hotel
Stroll along the lovely waterfront ‘The Bund’ and cruise to the Huangpu River Shanghai
Day 2 Sun. Oct.26
Am: Coach to Nanjing after breakfast (4hrs)
Pm: City tour - the Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum Nanjing
Day 3 Mon. Oct.27
School activities
Day 4 Tues. Oct.28
School activities
Day 5 Wed. Oct.29
Am: Coach to Suzhou after breakfast
Pm: City tour - the Master of Nets Garden, Visit the famous Suzhou Silk Factory and enjoy the fashion show Suzhou
Day 6 Thu. Oct.30
Am: Tour of the Tiger Hill in the morning.
Pm: Coach to Shanghai, and free at leisure in the Nanjing Road Commercial Street.
Eve: Enjoy the acrobatic show Shanghai
Day 7 Fri. Oct.31
Am: Visit the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Old Shanghai Exhibition Hall
Pm: Tour of Yu Garden, and Chenghuang Temple.
Day 8 Sat. Nov.01 Transfer to airport & back to sweet homeland.

Costs Involved for Highlands Jiangsu Connection
Costs Involved
Highlands School students in grades five through eight are invited to take part in the Highlands Jiangsu Experience. A parent must accompany any student delegate. The costs are based on 40 to 44 people in the delegation. I have tried to list all the costs that are directly related to the trip. For this sort of trip, this is an extremely reasonable price!

Airfare from Birmingham to Shanghai Pudong (approximate cost) approximately $1300
Ground costs including hotel, food, tours, tickets, guides, bus transportation $ 440
Passport (if not a passport holder already) $ 100
Visa for entry into China $ 90
Passport photos for visa $ 10
Gifts for host teachers, families, and officials $ 40
Total Estimated Cost (per person) $1980

I will be sending out a registration form within the next week. Registration forms and the $440 for the land portion of the trip are due by July 1. If we have more than 44 people interested in traveling, the delegation will be chosen on a first come, first served basis.

I will be using this blog to answer questions and to keep the delegation informed about the Highlands Jiangsu Connection. Please post any questions. Chances are if you have a question, others will have the very same one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Reading Recommendations

Preparing students for the twenty-first century involves more than teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. Check out this book by Daniel Pink for some fascinating insights into how education is and needs to be evolving.

Interested in finding out how China is changing? Read one man's journey along China's Route 312, perhaps the equivalent of the USA's Route 66. A fascinating and personal journey, China Road is much more than a simple travelogue.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Photos and Email from Miss Ping

Dear Kathryn,

I have seen the pictures and I can feel their happiness. I'm looking forward to joining them!

Last weekend my friends and I went to Yuyuantan Park. The weather was really nice and there were lots of people playing Taiji, flying kites, walking in the sun and chatting on the grass. Yuyuantan Park is famous for cherry blossoms. they are white, pink or even red. We took lots of pictures. There were also golden, pink and red tulips. At the center of the park there were snacks and we ate much toasted beef and chicken. It was really delicious! I have attached some pictures.

I cannot wait to see you again!

Yours sincerely,

Pictures and Email from Miss Huini

Dear Kathryn,

I am very happy to have recieved your mails and pictures. It is very important to me because it makes me feel warm and lets me know more about Highlands. It is half past eleven P.M. in Beijing now. Everything is quiet outside. Many people are going to have a good sleep. And sometimes I am wondering what the teachers and children are doing now in Highlands. I miss you very much!

There are pictures of my family in the attachment. One is my parents. My father's name is Zhan Tianzhen, which means naive. It sounds interesting, doesn't it? He is an English teacher in junior middle school. Everytime when I have to make an important decision, I like talking with him and asking for some suggestions. My mother's name is Chen Yumei which means as beautiful as jade. She is a dorm administrator in another middle school in my hometown. They love each other and I love them. If you are interested, I will show the Chinese characters of their names. This picture was taken in Zhongshan park in the local city called Longyan.

The second one is my younger brother. He is called Chen Renlong. Long is dragon. My parents hope that he will grow up to be a real man and as strong as dragon. Now he is an senior middle school student. As you see, this picture is taken in Tian'an Men Square. Last year he came to Beijing and I showed him around.

I still have many uncles and aunts. Each of them has a child. So I have a big family. But we don't live together. We will meet each other in Spring Festivel.

Wish you a nice day!


Photos From Friday, April 20, 2007

Connie was kind enough to send me a few photos of our fun day. Enjoy!

This photo was taken at the outdoor flea market where we found so many delightful "old" things.

This is the security guard who posed with me after checking to make sure we had paid for all of our children's books and puzzles!

Here we are at the "best sushi place in Beijing." It was the perfect treat after a very busy day!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Time to Play!

On Friday, April 20, I finished the meeting and paperwork for Huini by ten o'clock a.m. I returned to the hotel room to answer school email when I heard a ringing sound announcing someone was calling on my Skype account. I answered the ring to find it was Thomas, my eight-year-old son.

"Hi Mommy! I can't talk long. I have to work on my social studies project."
"What's your social studies project on?"
"Ancient China."
"You know I'm in China right now."
"Oh yeah!"

He was particularly interested in Chinese food and religion, so I told him during my afternoon shopping expedition, I would look for items that might help him.

This was to be my big day out -- work was through! Mission accomplished! Connie was going to pick me up at the hotel. Connie is the colleague of a father at Highlands School, and he was eager for us to meet. Since she was to be in Beijing that same day, she offered to show me around. I had given her my list of things I would like to for antiques or just basic "old" stuff, shopping for books for Highlands School's new Chinese program (!), and shopping for a few things to take back to family.

We started our adventures by heading to an "antique mall" and soon found that the items for sale were out of my price range. Connie, fluent in Chinese, asked someone about an outdoor flea market type place. We walked a few blocks and stumbled onto the perfect place for me to find some FUN things and have a great time doing it!

BARGAINING was the word for the day! Vendors were lined up in rows with low, low tables. The wares varied from old plates and pottery to abacuses, jewelry, Buddhas, religious objects, and real tiger paws! Connie, a turtle collector, bargained for a cricket box made of tiny carved wood pieces -- the bars of the cage were the size of toothpicks, and the cage was shaped like a turtle. She also bought a stone figure with a turtle head and a bat body.

I really wanted a box that had an abacus on the lid for my husband, the mathematician. A good strategy, we had heard, is to bargain for a while and then walk away. So, we tried this, but the box seller did not follow us. We were disappointed. We tried to bargain for some glass dolls, sort of flat and about six inches tall, but when we walked away, the tiny woman did not follow us. Frustrated, we continued and found a religious object used by Tibetan monks called a "prayer wheel."

Connie told me all about the prayer wheel, and I immediately thought that this might help Thomas with his report. We bargained, and the price got closer to the range I was willing to pay; The seller knew I was getting ready to walk, and she held up a bracelet I had been admiring and said to Connie in Chinese, "I'll give a bracelet for free." I said to Connie, "Tell her I need two bracelets for my two tall daughters." So the squatting woman handed me the prayer wheel and two bracelets. I opened my money pouch that had been hidden under my shirt. I paid for the the prayer wheel and the "free" bracelets and said "Shi-Shi."

As we began to walk, a man approached us and began a rapid string of Chinese syllables. Connie said, "He's the abacus box man. He says, 'fine.' You can have it for 120 yuen." So we walked back and picked up the big box, paid cash, and continued walking. Suddenly, we were surrounded by an abacus seller and doll sellers, some with delicate faces and one set with faces of rats! They had figured out we had cash and were willing to buy!

We couldn't move because people were pushing against us pointing a variety of objects near our faces. They were yelling, "Lady, lady, good price." Connie interpreted for me, and I bought two more sets of dolls. Somehow the vendors seemed to know exactly what we were looking for.

I said to Connie, "Do they have some sort of wireless network going? How did this happen?"

We headed to her hotel room, dropped off our great deals and washed our hands, arms, and faces. The wind was blowing pollution,sand and dirt that day, plus the items at the flea market were filthy black. We cleaned up and took a taxi to a restaurant famous for Peking Duck. We ate the moist meat between steamed "biscuits" and "pancakes" that were sort of like thin flour tortillas.

After the duck, we headed to a bookstore to find books for Highlands Library and for the Chinese program. We have recently started a global section for the library with books from around the world in a variety of languages.

The bookstore to me was like a candystore to a child! I was in heaven! We quickly found the children's section and found Harry Potter, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Charlotte's Web, some traditional folktales, workbooks to help learn Chinese, flashcards and pictures, posters and puzzles. We had found fantastic resources for our school, and when the four bags of books and other items were added up, the bill was around 40 US dollars. Abolutely amazing!

As we left the store, Connie and I were talking away, and we didn't notice that a security guard was following us. He tapped Connie on the shoulder and said we should come back to the store, that the alarm had sounded, and he needed to check our receipts and bags. He saw all of our children's books, and I am guessing we did not fit the profile for shoplifters. He checked our receipts, counted items, and declared us legal. By this time, he was smiling at all of our learning materials, and he looked like a friendly guy, so I asked Connie to ask him if I could have my picture made with him. Tell him this is my first time to be stopped by a Chinese policeman. She smilingly told him, and he laughed and posed with me for a picture with his hand in one of the bag of books. It was hilarious! I cannot wait to get the picture from Connie.

A few more stops including Starbucks were in order, and then we quickly ran by Connie's hotel room to drop off the motherload!

Then we headed to the silk market for chops (seals), a suitcase to hold all of the books and other purchases, and pearls.

We ordered the chops, chose some tea mugs and tea accessories, ordered chops for my husband, children, and the chair of the board (who has been so encouraging of Highlands' participation in the China Connection and who made a hilarious joke when she heard about some of the candidates' interest in seal cutting. "Won't that be hard for them to do seeing as how the seal population in Birmingham isn't so great?" I couldn't resist having one ordered for her!) I also ordered strands of pearls and pearl earrings, and then we headed to the basement to buy the suitcase. While we were there, the shops began to close, and all of the "up" escalators stopped working. It was 8:45, and the whole building closed at 9:00, but they wanted people to begin leaving at that point! We climbed up the stopped escalators, Connie leading the way with the big, empty suitcase in hand, convincing the security guard at every escalator from the basement to the sixth floor that we had to get back upstairs to pick up items we had already purchased.

We were out of breath and laughing so hard by the time we got to the sixth floor. At the very top, the security guard did not want to let us through. She spoke to him in Chinese and said, "If you don't believe me, come on with us." He smiled and let us through.

We picked up everything, stuffed my suitcase, and saw the vendors heading to the elevator! Ah-hah! An elevator! Wish we had known!

We climbed in with all of the vendors. Connie told the pearl sellers our story of climbing up the stopped escalators and talking the security guards into letting us return to the top floor. The whole elevator was laughing. What a fun evening. Of course we had to take a few pictures! This is a picture of one of the vendors in the elevator with me!

We topped off the night with sushi from the "best sushi place in all of Beijing" according to Connie. It was delicious, fresh, melting-in-my-mouth-good.

After a trip to Connie's hotel to pick up the other purchases, the taxi dropped me off at my hotel. By this time, it was close to midnight. I settled with the hotel, answered email, packed my suitcases, took a shower, and dressed for my flight. I decided I would take an "afternoon nap" since it was Friday afternoon in Birmingham. Three hours later, I met a car Connie had arranged for me and arrived at the airport by 6:00 a.m.

Thirty hours, two layovers, and three airplanes later, I was hugging my sweet family and trying to tell them a few highlights from the trip.

There's no place like home!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Letter to the Highlands Community

Dear Highlands Community,

The applicant pool of teachers wanting to teach Chinese in America was outstanding. There were eighty-eight teachers vying for positions in six schools. The first day of interviewing, we split up into teams so that we could interview about seventy candidates. Each team interviewed half of that in one day. The next day we saw the remaining eighteen and began second interviews with a selected twenty-five teachers.

By the end of the interviewing, we were all exhausted but also exhilarated because we knew that all of our schools were going to be able to have excellent Chinese teachers next year. I am thrilled to tell you that I have asked two teachers to join us, each in a slightly different capacity.

The first teacher is Xiang Ping. Ping grew up in a village and was so smart, and her parents wanted her to get a good education. So, they sent her to boarding school at the age of twelve in Hubei Province. (She is very independent!) She received her bachelor's degree in "English Language and Literature" at Beijing Normal University, one of China's top universities. She has been trained this year in a program called "Chinese Language Teaching Overseas." She has some teaching experience and tutoring experience.

Xiang Ping is a kind, graceful, confident, and humorous young woman, twenty-three years old. Her eyes sparkle, and she smiles a lot! Xiang Ping will be teaching Chinese to the students in kindergarten through middle school using an exploratory language model. She will also be working with our other teacher with parent and community education and outreach.

Our second teacher is Zhan Huini. Huini's father was an English teacher in China, so she grew up learning English at home and later studied it at school. She received her bachelor's degree in Preschool Education at Beijing Normal University and has trained this year in the program “Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language."

Zhan Huini is a bubbly, energetic, confident young woman of twenty-two, full of good ideas about working with young children. She has worked in camps with young children teaching them English during their spring and summer vacations. Huini will be teaching Chinese to the preschoolers and will visit with the children in the Family Center to expose them to some Chinese greetings and songs. In addition, she will work as a preschool associate teacher and work in the Extended Day Program with the preschoolers in the "Lunch Bunch" leading them in some Chinese related activities such as games, songs, and crafts two to three times a week. She will also help with parent and community education and outreach.

My American friends and I visited the American Embassy today to ask them to help with the visa process when these teachers apply. That is the next hurdle for these teachers, but we expect that everything will go smoothly.

Before arriving in Birmingham in early August, our two China Connection teachers will receive acculturation training in Beijing and in San Francisco.

Many thanks for all of the parent support as we extend our knowledge of the world and help our children learn about China with two fabulous teachers!